It’s early yet in the 2015 Legislature and there is almost an air of desperate experimentation. Or maybe that’s too grand a phrase for it; rather, it’s more like throwing a lot of bills against the wall like spaghetti, to see what sticks.
How this will end up is difficult to say, but Senate and House tax-writing committees have passed a number of bills that could be packaged together, later in the session, as a rescue package for a state budget floundering under the weight of a $1.6 billion shortfall.
There are separate bills to raise the cigarette tax and an assortment of fee bills for various agencies, and a set of bills from the House Ways and Means Committee may set a cap on future tax credits for film and movies. The same panel also passed a number of bills, opposed by the state’s top business lobby, that seek to close what the bills’ authors say are tax loopholes abused by corporate taxpayers.
Some of the lavish tax breaks passed in flushed times would be temporarily suspended in light of the gaping hole in the budget for the year beginning July 1.
Some of the legislation advancing beyond the first committee stage are bills that will almost certainly be rewritten, as “placeholders” for eventual amendment later in the session. The result is a lot of moving legislative parts and it is far from clear how much some will raise. Talk of a $1 billion correction in revenues is ambitious.
Some of the proposals have dangerous side effects, such as repeal of the much-abused state tax credit for local inventory taxes. That would in turn hurt some local governments, who have lately inflated the definition of “inventory” at the state’s expense; senators advanced the legislation anyway with promises that it won’t be enacted unless the financial consequences are worked out later.
Later is going to come pretty soon. The session ends on June 11 — that is, if lawmakers don’t have to come back to face a special session, possible because Gov. Bobby Jindal has threatened to veto the entire state budget if it is balanced with revenue-raisers he doesn’t like.
And there is a great deal he doesn’t approve of, including many of the early bills mentioned above.
Between the timetable of the session and the sometimes arcane definitions of what Jindal will or will not approve, it is not clear what the final picture will be. But because of the timetable, said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, “We need to get some of these measures moving through the legislative process to solve the budget hole.”
So there is activity but not yet a solution.